Patriotic Songs

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flag2You are in the arena to see a basketball game. After the teams warm up, they go back to their side of the court and stand in a line. A singer walks up to the microphone, all eyes turn to the lighted flag, people in the audience take off their hats and rise. Why do we do this and what is the significance?

The people in the arena are standing for the singing of the National Anthem, the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. This pomp and circumstance is a given before most athletic events throughout the United States. It is a way to honor the nation in which we live. The ‘Star Spangled Banner’ is just one of hundreds of songs written to demonstrate the author’s love and devotion to the United States.

With President’s Day right around the corner, it is the perfect time to bring some patriotic music into your classroom. Join with me as we examine some well-known songs and delve into what makes a song patriotic.

What Makes a Song Patriotic?

To get into the right mindset, begin to think about why it is important for students to learn about patriotic songs like the ‘Star Spangled Banner’. Then, read what Sallie Best, a student teacher in 1918, wrote in her article Patriotic Music in the Grades. Do you agree with Best that a teacher must teach patriotic songs with enthusiasm? What do you think about Best’s idea of rote memorization? Of course, in 1918, the United States joined the war in Europe. How do you think this affected Best’s desire to teach patriotic songs? How does this article relate to modern day education?

Ask students to brainstorm and create a list of attributes that make a song patriotic. Point out the lyrics of patriotic songs. The National Institute of Environmental Health Science’s (NIEHS) Kid Pages contains a list of over twenty-five patriotic songs and their lyrics to peruse. Students should find that one common theme of patriotic songs is pride for the United States – its land, people, and government. Then, have each student create a list of five things that make him or her proud to be an American. How does their list compare to the lyrics they read?

A Few Patriotic Songsflag3

Now let’s look at a few patriotic songs. Perhaps, the most well known patriotic song in the United States is the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ or the National Anthem. At the NIEHS site, students can listen to the song, follow the lyrics, and read a brief history of the song. Next, point students to the Library of Congress and view a copy of the first printed edition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ which combines the lyrics and the music. Then, direct students to the National Museum of American History’s online exhibit: The Star Spangled Banner. Students will learn about the War of 1812, the flag that inspired the poem, Francis Scott Key, and the American flag. They can also view an interactive flag and collect fourteen stars by correctly answering quiz questions.

Atlantic Monthly paid Julia Ward Howe four dollars for her 1861 composition, the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’. Learn how Ward gave a popular Union Army marching song new life at the Library of Congress. Read the lyrics. Then, listen to Thomas Chalmers and the U.S. Marine band perform the song. Hold a discussion about how this song might help lift soldiers’ spirits. Compare and contrast the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ to the ‘Star Spangled Banner’.

After viewing nature’s majesty atop Pike’s Peak in 1893, Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write the words to ‘America the Beautiful’. At the Harvard Square Library, read a brief biography of Katharine Lee Bates. Next, visit NIEHS’s site on America the Beautiful. Students can listen to the song, read the lyrics, and read a brief history of how the poem was set to music. Since the physical beauty of the land inspired the author of America the Beautiful, have students watch a National Geographic photograph slideshow of images from the United States. Do they think these images fit with the song ‘America the Beautiful’? What would students add to the slideshow?

Lastly, Reverend Samuel Francis Smith wrote the words to ‘My County ‘Tis of Thee’ in 1831. Read the lyrics at the song’s NIEHS site. Then visit the Library of Congress’ page on My Country ‘Tis of Thee to learn more about the song and listen to a recording of the song. Students may choose to listen to a version by the Diamond Four, the U.S. Air Force Concert Band, Arthur Middleton, and more. Students may also read a letter written by Helen Keller that mentions hearing the song during her trip to the World’s Fair. Have students pay close attention to Keller’s descriptions. Remind them that Helen Keller was blind at the time she visited the World’s Fair and wrote this letter.

Putting it all Together

Have each student research a patriotic song. You can create a worksheet for students to fill out. The worksheet could contain a place for students to list the name of their song, the song’s author and/or composer, the year it was written and/or put to music, a description of the song, facts about the song’s author or composer, and interesting facts about the song. Students can then use their information to make a poster or PowerPoint presentation about their song.

flag1While the songs highlighted here are hundreds of years old, a song does not have to be old in order to be patriotic. Drive this point home by having students create their own patriotic ode to the United States. Remind students that many patriotic songs begin as poem and are later set to music. Therefore, students will be creating the poem, not composing the music. Students should refer back to their list of things that make them proud to be an American and use these in their poem. Students should present their patriotic poems to the class. You may give your students a variety of ways to present their poems: orally in front of the class, a radio reading (from a tape or CD), a video reading (a videotape or DVD recording of them reading the poem), or a as PowerPoint presentation.

The ‘Star Spangled Banner’, ‘America the Beautiful’, the’ Battle Hymn of the Republic’, and ‘My Country ‘Tis of Thee’ are all patriotic songs that extol the wonders of the United States. Patriotic songs have a place in our classrooms. They are part of our heritage and history. They deserve recognition.

Andrea Annas

Understands the folklore and other cultural contributions from various regions of the United States and how they helped to form a national heritage

§113.16. Social Studies, Grade 5
(17)Citizenship. The student understands important symbols, customs, celebrations, and landmarks that represent American beliefs and principles and contribute to our national identity.
(B)  sing or recite "The Star-Spangled Banner" and explain its history;


Documenting the American South

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Library of Congress

National Museum of American History

Harvard Square Library

National Geographic

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